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Saturday, 24 February 2018

Why do parents make the decision to let their teen drink? Is underage drinking 'inevitable' and will providing it be 'protective'?

I've written many times about why parents make the decision to let their teen drink. At a time when we know so much more about the risks associated with teenage drinking and the message we keep sending is 'delay, delay, delay', it is surprising that so many parents buckle and allow their child to drink, sometimes at a very young age. Now, if you believe providing alcohol to your child is the 'right thing to do' - that is your decision and no-one has the right to tell you to do otherwise ... but if you do not feel comfortable with doing this, then 'stick to your guns'! From what I see, the major reason for this behaviour, particularly from those parents who swore till they were blue in the face that they would never do it, is parental peer pressure, i.e., the belief that they're the only ones saying 'no'!

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation at a Parent Information Evening that was piggy-backed onto an Information Night for Year 10 parents. We had a huge turnout and there were many parents who wanted to speak to me afterwards, mostly about their concerns around parties and alcohol. At one point I was speaking to a mother who was trying to cope with a very forceful daughter who wanted to take alcohol to parties. She asked for my advice and I simply turned the question around and said "Do you feel comfortable giving alcohol to your 15-year-old daughter to take to a party?" There was an immediate and very strong "Absolutely not!" in reply. She then quickly added "But I'm the only one who feels like that, all the other parents allow it ..."

Luckily, there was a line of other Mums and Dads behind her and I asked them whether there was one of them who allowed their son or daughter to take alcohol to a party (remember they were all parents from the same year group). Not one of them said that they did ... There were at least 10 parents in the group and when I suggested they talk and support each other in this area their response was priceless. Almost in unison they turned around and said "But we're the only ones, everyone else does!" Really? Even if every other parent in the year did provide alcohol (which I highly doubt!), there were at least 10 of them that didn't ... couldn't they use that to their advantage?

But what does the research say? Why do parents let their teens drink? I recently came across a US qualitative study that attempted to tease out some of those reasons (Friese et al, 2012). It attempted to try to find out under what circumstances parents allowed their teen to drink at home, so it's important to note that this is not about providing alcohol for parties. None of the findings are particularly surprising but what was really interesting was that two-thirds of those interviewed (69%) indicated that they did not think it was a good idea to allow their teen to drink at home, with their initial response being that they did not condone underage drinking. However, during the interview it became obvious that they all had exceptions!

So what were those exceptions? These are the reasons that Friese and her colleagues identified:
  • drinking on special occasions - this included family celebrations such as weddings, birthdays, holidays and family vacations. Parents said that they felt "more comfortable allowing their teenager to drink when their family was around them". Holidays such as Christmas and New Year were also identified as times when teens were allowed to drink. An interesting one was family vacation, with parents allowing drinking in locations where it was more accepted, such as Europe. Teen's safety and the parents' ability to monitor their child were identified by the researchers as the reason parents allowed drinking at these times
  • teaching drinking practices - this is an 'oldie but a goodie'! The idea that letting them drink with you will teach teens how to drink responsibly, including how to drink in moderation and how to appreciate certain types of alcohol. This is also linked to the idea of 'demystifying' alcohol - removing the 'forbidden fruit'
  • drinking to preserve traditions - in this US study, this was identified in parents of Latin American or European backgrounds. These referenced their childhoods and the drinking culture in their family, with some believing that it had influenced their behaviour and taught them to drink more responsibly
  • parents feeling pressure to let their teens drink - some identified situations where another adult offered their child alcohol without their consent or simply felt pressure to let them drink. Some of these parents identified their partners as overruling them in this area, or other family members offering alcohol to their child at family celebrations. Having older teens was also seen as making withholding alcohol from younger children more difficult
  • parents' belief that underage drinking is inevitable - more than half of those interviewed held this view - it was simply going to happen and there was nothing a parent could do about it!
  • fear of harming their relationship with their teen - others feared that being too strict in this area could have negative consequences. One parent compared alcohol to the 'sex issue' saying "If you put in a rule that's really firm, it's not realistic." She stressed that the best she could hope for was that her son would use good judgment if he drank
  • harm reduction - once again, roughly half of the parents saw drinking as inevitable and wanted to offer advice and approaches on how to stay as safe as possible. Creating a safe place for open discussion appeared to be important to parents
As already said, there really aren't too many surprises here - most of the parents I speak to who have let their teen drink would usually identify one or more of these as the reason for their decision. All of these are valid and, as a parent, if you choose to let your teen drink alcohol, no-one has the right to tell you to do otherwise. Recent research, however, challenges some of the basic ideas behind some of these:
  • underage drinking is not inevitable - the latest statistics show that we have more non-drinkers amongst our school-based young people than we have seen since national data started to be collected. Growing numbers of young people have never consumed alcohol (rising from one in 10 in 1999 to one in three in 2014). The old chestnut of 'everyone will do it' is simply not true. Of course, lots of them will experiment and many will end up drinking regularly but let's not forget those that don't, won't and never have! When parents throw their hands up and give in, instead of supporting those young people who are making the tough decisions, they really are letting their child down ...
  • giving them alcohol will not necessarily teach them to drink responsibly and is not 'protective'. A longitudinal study from UNSW released in January (Mattick et al, 2018) followed 2000 children and parents over a 6-year period through their adolescence and found that as far as parental supply of alcohol was concerned, there was "no evidence of any benefit or protective effect, either directly … or indirectly". It didn't protect from problems in the future, instead, providing alcohol to children was "associated with subsequent binge drinking, alcohol-related harm(s) and symptoms of alcohol use disorder". Most importantly, the idea that when you give teens alcohol "you'll know how much they're drinking" was also found to be false. The research found that parental supply "is associated with increased risk of other supply, not the reverse", i.e., if you give them alcohol, they're more likely to go and find more!
I'm sure that some people believe that I am some sort of wowser and that I'm 'anti-alcohol' - I'm really not, I really couldn't care what adults do in terms of drinking. It's a legal product and you can do what you want, as long as you don't hurt anyone else ... Why I try to challenge parental beliefs in this area is that I meet an extraordinary number of school-based young people that have had the most terrible things happen to them when they have gone out on a Saturday night and messed around with a product that they simply don't have the maturity or brain development to deal with. Senseless violence, sexual assaults, horrific accidents and falls, and children as young as 13 being placed on life-support because they've stopped breathing after drinking so much are just some of the things I have seen ... I challenge anyone to not change their views about the provision of alcohol to teens after speaking to a 15-year-old girl tell you that she was sexually assaulted when drunk, usually after her parents gave her a couple of drinks to take to a party or she went to an event where alcohol was permitted or tolerated ... I can tell you, it's a devastating experience!

You have to make the decision about what you do around the provision of alcohol to your child. Make sure that whatever you do it is based on the best information possible. Underage drinking is not inevitable - far from it - and research has found that it's not protective and does not necessarily teach them how to drink responsibly in the future! And remember, no matter what your child says, you're not the only one who makes the decisions you do!


Friese, B., Grube, J., Moore, R., & Jennings, V. (2012). Parents' rules about underage drinking: A qualitative study of why parents let teens drink. Journal of Drug Education 42, 379-391.

Mattick, R. P., Clare, P. J., Aiken, A., Wadolowski, M., Hutchinson, D., Najman, J., Slade, T., Bruno, R., McBride, N., Kypri, K., Vogl, L., & Degenhardt, L. (2018). Association of parental supply of alcohol with adolescent drinking, alcohol-related harms, and alcohol use disorder symptoms: a prospective cohort study. Lancet, published Online January 25, 2018 S2468-2667(17)30240-2.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Alcohol and school functions: Do they go together?

As the school year comes to an end it is not unusual for me to receive a flurry of emails from parents regarding the provision of alcohol at school functions. Last year was no exception, so I thought I'd share a couple of these and let you know how I responded.
"At my son's school's Awards Night, which all parents and their sons were encouraged to attend, both my wife and I were surprised to see alcohol being served. As we entered the school's auditorium, prior to the actual ceremony, we were both offered a free glass of champagne. A bar had been set-up where you could purchase alcohol throughout the night, including spirits, and it seemed as though most of the adults present were drinking. Our son is 14 and has only recently joined the school and we were quite taken aback. What was most concerning to us was that we saw a number of parents either pass a half glass of champagne to their son (in school uniform) to finish off and, in one case, actually purchase a beer for them. By the end of the night (drinks continued to be served after the ceremony), there were a number of parents who were obviously intoxicated. We're not prudes (we both like a drink but didn't drink that night because we had our son with us) but found the whole thing quite bizarre. Is this usual practice at other schools?" 

Here's another one ...

"We recently attended a primary school 'Year 5 dinner' with our 10-year-old daughter at a very expensive Melbourne private school which was, in effect, primarily an adult cocktail party where free champagne was served at the start and alcohol was being sold by the bottle throughout the night. The only other available drink was water and cordial for the children. By the end of the night all adults who drank (my estimate 95%, excluding myself and a couple of others) seemed at least a bit tipsy and a few inebriated. I would be grateful for your view on this topic ... "
I must admit that I find both of these a little shocking ... If I had received these in the 90s I most probably wouldn't have batted an eyelid but to get these in 2017 is a bit bizarre! Attitudes around the provision of alcohol at school functions have changed greatly in the last decade, with many of the schools I have a relationship with significantly changing their policies in this area. That said, however, I've sent both of these anecdotes through to a number of principals across the country and asked for their response and the majority of them have got back to me with something along the lines of 'Welcome to my world!"

My first experience with the whole alcohol and school functions issue was in the late 1990s. A group of Year 12s from a Catholic boys' school had apparently 'gone on the rampage' after drinking too much at an end-of-year function and it had all been caught on CCTV. The tabloid press grabbed the story and the school found itself in the centre of a PR nightmare. The principal was quick to react and contacted a number of 'experts' in the area of adolescent behaviour and alcohol and other drugs (myself included) and asked us to help them with a response. We surveyed the school community - students, staff and parents - to try to find out what was going on with alcohol, looked at their policies and procedures and a report was provided with a series of recommendations. One of those was around the provision of alcohol at school events.

What became glaringly obvious when looking at the school's social calendar was that alcohol was at the centre of almost every event, regardless of the time of day or whether students were present or not. Presentation nights, sporting events, information evenings and even parent-teacher meetings - alcohol was provided. To promote good role modelling and to try to send a positive message to the students (i.e., you can socialize without drinking alcohol), one of the recommendations suggested that the school consider making those parent functions where students were present alcohol-free. For some reason (and I've never worked out why), the principal decided to take this one step further and ban alcohol at all school functions (even those not held on school property) - completely! About two months later I had a phone call from a friend of mine who worked at the school to tell me that the ban had been lifted. Apparently, they had to reverse the decision as they had had two parent functions since the ban had been implemented and no-one had turned up - not even the Organising Committee! Extremely sad, but true - alcohol wasn't available so no-one came!

Over the years I have seen a number of principals almost lose their jobs as a result of their decision to try to make changes in this area. But change has occurred for the most part and many schools have now tightened their rules around the provision of alcohol on school property and, most particularly, at any event where students are present. This all came to a head in 2013 when the national media ran a story about teachers at primary and secondary schools in Melbourne reporting 'drunken parents' assaulting a staff member at a school activity and disrupting a valedictory function. As a result of the incident, the school banned alcohol at all future events. Around the same time, one of the schools I visit narrowly avoided similar media attention when an ambulance was called to their Year 12 Graduation Night after one of the mothers became so drunk she was found unconscious in the toilet. Hopefully things have moved forward since then ...

Unfortunately, the exception appears to be in primary schools. I have emails from parents from Independent, Catholic and state primary schools who talk about Mothers' Groups who go through bottles of wine on school property, school fetes which have a number of bars running through the day, Mums and Dads who take champagne to the Swimming Carnival and the list goes on and on. I was recently speaking to a primary school principal who told me that when she had recently tried to change the culture and make events held at her school 'alcohol-free', she was told in no uncertain terms that if she moved ahead with the plan that would be the end of seeing any fathers at events!
So do alcohol and school functions go together? 
I think this is a fairly simple and straightforward issue to deal with and find it hard to understand why parents have so much of a problem with it. Firstly, if there are students present, regardless of age, that event should be alcohol-free. Awards nights, graduation dinners, information evenings, mother-daughter breakfasts, sporting events during school time or on the weekend - it doesn't matter - if kids are there, alcohol isn't! If the parents don't show up, it's their loss, no-one else's. If they really are not going to show up to one of their child's key milestones because there's no alcohol, they have a problem plain and simple ... And to anyone who says that providing alcohol at these events can demonstrate 'responsible drinking', I simply ask them to attend one of these events and see how much alcohol some of these people drink! There are very few Parent Information Evenings that I present at now where alcohol is provided but on the rare occasion when it does happen it astounds me how many glasses some people can 'down' before the talk begins ...
For parent-only events I see no problems with alcohol being provided or sold. Alcohol is a legal product and it plays a key role in many Australian adults' socializing. Why shouldn't alcohol be made available? The only proviso I have in this area is when these functions are held on school grounds. There have been a number of times over the years where I have rolled up at a school on Monday morning to find literally crates and crates of empty bottles piled up against a wall, all left from a weekend event. That is not a 'good-look' and what message does it send to the students? Years ago, I would have suggested that all school functions that provided alcohol be held off school grounds but that's just not the reality anymore. So many schools, particularly those in the private sector, have now built function centres for such events. Once again, it's quite simple, if alcohol is going to be made available, make sure it's cleaned up afterwards ...
So what about primary schools? As an ex-primary school teacher, the stories I am now hearing about what is happening across the country simply blows my mind! I hate to sound like my Dad but 'you wouldn't have seen that in my day!' The idea of any parent bringing a bottle of wine to drink at a primary school's Mothers' Group or a sporting or swimming carnival during the day is just abhorrent! What must these people be thinking? If you want to meet up with a group of other women and share a bottle of wine at 2pm in the afternoon - go for it, you're an adult and you can do what you want - but do it off school property and away from children. 
As a parent you are your child's most important teacher. Every word and action, especially during the primary years, helps shape their ideas in all sorts of areas. They will mimic your behaviour, both good and bad, so positive role modelling is vital. Alcohol is a part of our culture and any non-drinker will tell you that it's extremely difficult to avoid social situations which don't involve drinking. It would be wonderful if schools, particularly primary schools, were able to provide events or functions that were alcohol-free - to allow our kids to see for themselves that it is possible to socialize and have a good time without drinking. Even though we've come a long way, it seems as if we have a way to go yet before we see real change ...

Friday, 9 February 2018

The difference between having a 'good time' and ending up on life-support could be just one drink: If you think your teen may be drinking alcohol, have the conversation

About 18 months ago you may remember quite a remarkable story out of the US that got a great deal of coverage right across the world. Hannah Lottritz, a 21-year-old from Nevada, uploaded a photograph of herself on life-support together with a blog entry titled 'Drinking Responsibly' in an effort to warn others about the risks associated with drinking to excess. The article and the photograph went viral with both being picked up by news agencies across the world. The reason behind her decision to share this disturbing image is clearly explained in the opening paragraph of the piece ...

"I am writing this because I didn’t realize the importance of drinking responsibly until I was waking up from a coma, and I don't want anyone to go through what my family and I went through. I ask that you share this with your friends, family or anyone who may benefit from reading this. If I can help just one person by sharing my experience, then I will be absolutely ecstatic."

Sadly, I meet many young people who have had similar experiences - most who are totally mortified about what happened and many completely mystified by how it happened. As I say to young people, I've never met someone who wanted to end up in an emergency department - every single one of them made a silly mistake, some believing that they drank exactly the same amount as they had done on other occasions and others having just one or two more than usual. It sounds 'pat' but it's true - the difference between having a 'good time' and finding yourself on life-support in hospital could be just one drink ...

Hannah's story is not unusual. She had gone to a music festival and made the mistake of trying to play 'catch-up' with her friends in regards to alcohol. She then drifted away from the people she knew and ended up with another group, who she then promised she could "outdrink". This included skolling whiskey straight from the bottle. From then on she has no memory of what happened and had to rely on friends to fill in the gaps. Shortly after skolling the whiskey, she collapsed and stopped breathing. She was taken to the event's medical tent, intubated and flown to hospital. Her parents were contacted by police and told that she was in a critical condition, suffering from acute respiratory failure and acute alcohol intoxication.  As she says in her article:

"My blood alcohol concentration was .41 when I arrived at the hospital, five times over the legal limit. The doctors thought I was brain dead because I was completely unresponsive. My pupils were sluggishly reactive, I had no corneal reflex and I wasn't responding to verbal or painful stimuli"

What has really upset me in the last year or so is the number of young people who actually wear the fact that they have been taken to hospital like a 'badge of honour'. Somehow they think it is 'cool' to have this experience, with some actually bragging about apparently having their stomachs' pumped. When I see this behaviour I take great joy in letting people know that pumping the stomach is rarely, if ever, used for someone suffering from alcohol poisoning. There's a number of reasons for this, including the fact that it is quite labour-intensive and requires more staff than is normally on hand in an emergency department, but most importantly it is a process that is considered more dangerous than beneficial in most cases. Now to be honest I certainly have heard of doctors and nurses telling young people that their stomach had to be pumped - but according to one nurse I know, this is often done for dramatic effect more than anything!

Of course, their bravado and 'big talk' could simply be due to embarrassment but nevertheless we need to make sure that young people are aware that there is nothing glamorous about ending up in hospital on life-support.
Usually the hospital staff have to cut off the patient's clothing, if they haven't wet or messed themselves, they have vomited and need to be cleaned up and put into a hospital gown. They are then intubated - this is where a small tube is inserted through the mouth or nose, then threaded through the oesophagus and into the stomach. This tube is placed on suction, decompressing the stomach which helps reduce the risk of vomiting. The person is also put on an IV drip to help with hydration. As you can imagine this is all extremely unpleasant and certainly not glamorous.
As Hannah writes in her article ...
"I finally woke up about 24 hours after I arrived at the hospital. I had a tube down my throat and my hands were restrained so I couldn't pull it out. I was unable to talk with the tube down my throat, making it hard to tell my parents and the nurses that it was extremely uncomfortable. I had to pass a respiratory test to prove I could breathe on my own before they removed it. I failed the first respiratory test I took, and I had to wait several hours to take another test." 
Last year I received an email from a young woman named Georgia who found herself in a similar situation. She had got extremely drunk, became unconscious and thankfully due to a couple of her quick-thinking friends, an ambulance was called and she was rushed to hospital. She wanted to share her story, telling me that I could use it in my school talks, but it was what she wrote right at the end of the message that really had an impact on me.

"I drank far too much and I will never forgive myself for my stupid decisions that night. But it is my friends and, most importantly, my Mum and Dad that I feel really bad about. I don't have any memories about the really bad stuff. I blacked out well before I was taken to hospital but it was my friends who had to try to look after me at the party who I put into such a terrible position who had to deal with the situation. My poor parents had to sit my hospital bed for almost 24 hours and be told that I may not make it through the night. I just feel so selfish ..."

As I wrote back to Georgia, it is important that she forgives herself for her error of judgment. She made a mistake, she needs to apologise to those people she feels she needs to say sorry to and then brush herself off and get on with life. Beating yourself up for mistakes like this gets you nowhere. Waking up in a hospital room with tubes down your throat and your parents standing over the top of you in tears must be devastating though ... it's a tough thing to recover from.

So when it comes to alcohol poisoning and the risk of ending up in hospital, what should a parent be saying to their teen in an effort to keep them protected or at the very least, aware of the dangers? Here are just a couple of key points that could be raised:
  • if you're going to drink, make sure you eat something beforehand. Young people need to eat a 'fistful of food' before they go out - that's about the size of their empty stomach. That's enough to keep you protected to some degree, slowing down absorption but not interfering with the actual alcohol experience. Something 'carbohydrate-heavy' like a small bowl of pasta or rice, even a sandwich or burger is best ...
  • it can't sober you up but making sure that water is a part of every alcohol experience your teen has is extremely important. Make sure the first drink they drink is a glass of water (it prepares them for the dehydrating effect of alcohol and also fills them up a little so they are less likely to gulp that first bottle or can down as fast) and try to get them to get into the habit of having another glass between each alcoholic drink. Once again, we usually tell young people this is all about rehydrating but realistically it's most probably more important in that it can help slow their drinking down just a little ...
  • remember that alcohol is like any other drug, it can affect you differently every time you drink it. You could have exactly the same amount of alcohol on two different occasions and have completely different experiences. So many people find this hard to believe and when something does go amiss are convinced that it couldn't be the alcohol that caused the problem. Make sure your teen gets this message early - just because they had a 'good time' when they had a couple of shots last week does not mean it'll necessarily be the same this week!
  • avoid drinking games and shots. Unfortunately, for some young (and even not so young) people this is just part of their alcohol experience and there's little we're going to be able to do to change that. That said, make your views clear on this kind of drinking behaviour - we know that your opinion can actually make a difference
  • when it comes to other people drinking, encourage them to intervene when necessary. People just don't suddenly become drunk and lose consciousness - there will be warning signs. This is a gradual process for most people. If you see a friend who you think is getting into trouble, step in and say something. It's not even about telling them not to drink, saying something as simple as "slow down" could make all the difference. Try to get them away from the alcohol by suggesting you go for a walk together, send them a text to distract them or get others to help you - don't let it get to the stage of having to call an ambulance if you can possibly help it
  • most importantly, make sure they know they have your total support should something ever go wrong and they need to call for help. Many young people don't call 000 because they're frightened their parents may find out - that's so sad and must be devastating for parents to hear. Nobody ever wants their child to be put into a situation where they need to call an ambulance but every parents wants to know that if they were, they'd do it without hesitation!
Having a conversation about alcohol and all the things that can go wrong is never going to be easy. Acknowledging that your teen may be drinking, without necessarily condoning the behaviour, can be extremely difficult but it is necessary. That one conversation could prevent the one person you love most in the world from ending up being transported to hospital and that's worth all the discomfort in the world ...

Saturday, 3 February 2018

"Does my drinking affect how my child drinks? Should we stop drinking or not drink around them?"

One of the talks that I have written to deliver at Information Evenings this year attempts to answer the five top questions I get asked by parents about alcohol based on the most recent research findings. The talk will cover questions about the provision of a 'sip of alcohol', whether allowing a child to drink at a wedding or a NYE celebration is appropriate and the latest information on alcohol and the teen brain. One query that regularly comes up is about the impact, both positive and negative, parental drinking has on a child. Some of the questions I get asked in this area include the following:

·       "Should I stop drinking around my child? Am I sending the wrong message when I drink alcohol?"
·       "We always take a bottle of wine out with us when we go out for dinner. What message is that sending to our kids?"
·       "We don't drink a lot, mainly with meals … is our daughter learning anything positive from that?"

Firstly, most parents start thinking about this issue far too late … From the moment they are born children are learning by watching the world around them and by the time they are toddlers, they will be constantly asking questions. Parents are their children's first and most important teacher. Every word and action, even at a very early age, will help shape their ideas in all sorts of areas, including alcohol. To start worrying about drinking in front of them when they hit their teens is most probably a bit of waste of time – they've picked up an awful lot of information already!

More importantly, why should you stop drinking in front of them? You're an adult and, as long as you're not hurting anyone else, you can do what you wish. If alcohol is a part of your life, trying to hide that from your child makes little sense. It's a legal product and it plays a significant role in many Australians' lives. As already said, your child learns so much from you, both positive and negative. If you and your partner drink responsibly, your child is likely to learn something from that. Of course, if you drink to excess or regularly come home drunk from social events, that is a completely different story. If you have reached a point in your life when you want to stop drinking and it just so happens to coincide with your child entering their teens – fantastic, go for it! But if you still enjoy a drink and you don't want to stop, it makes little sense …

So, what does the research about the impact of parental drinking on their children is? Well, the good news is that as far as light to moderate drinking is concerned, Mahedy and colleagues found that there is "no support for an association between parental alcohol use during childhood and conduct and emotional problems during childhood or adolescence". In terms of major behavioural issues, if you drink in moderation, your child is not going to be affected. As far as impact of your drinking on your child's future drinking is concerned, however, the evidence is not so positive. A 2016 review of the literature by Rossow and others found the following:

"Almost all prospective studies on this topic have found that parental drinking predicts drinking behaviour in their children; that is, when one or both parents drink more, their offspring are more likely to report more drinking or more alcohol-related problems later on than others …"

Essentially, the more parents drink, the more the child will drink and the more problems they'll have with their drinking in the future. Although the authors of this study said that this could be due to other factors such as where you live, cultural or religious factors or even genetics, it's pretty clear that your attitudes and values around alcohol are going to have an impact on how your child views the issue, as well as their drinking behaviour. Interestingly, studies have found that the impact of parental drinking could be mediated by specific parenting practices, such as parental monitoring, (i.e., knowing where your child is, knowing who they're with and when they'll be home) and discipline. Talking about alcohol with your child also had a positive impact. These strategies had the greatest impact in early adolescence, with the impact being greater at 14 than when they were older. So what this essentially means is that if you're worried that your child could have picked up some potentially negative attitudes around alcohol from you, putting some basic parenting strategies into place in their early teens could reduce the risk of problems developing in the future.

A 2013 study examined parental alcohol role modelling and its impact on binge drinking and found that the " … most important factors in the alcohol socialization process are parental alcohol behaviour. Alcohol habits with a high frequency but low intake per occasion seem to be transmitted to offspring in the same manner as binge drinking, and these drinking practices followed our respondents into adulthood." Children were continuing to pick up their parents' drinking behaviours during their teens, but most disturbingly, these were being taken into adulthood.

So, the evidence is pretty clear that you do have a major influence on your child's future drinking behaviour and you should never underestimate that influence, even during the teen years. You may not think your teenager cares about what you do or say during adolescence, but research shows that even though peers are becoming much more important, you will always play an important role in your child's life.

With that in mind, here are some of the simple things you can do to be a positive role model around alcohol and socializing are as follows: 

·       limit your alcohol use whenever you can. It's not necessarily about stopping drinking but 'get smart' in this area and always remember, children don't only pick-up bad habits from watching you and others, they can also learn a lot from observing 'responsible drinking'
·       do not get drunk, especially in front of your children
·       sometimes decline the offer of alcohol. This is a great one and can involve just quietly putting your hand over the top of a glass at a family 'get-together' or the like and saying "I'm not drinking tonight." Don't try to make it a grand gesture ("Look at me, look at what I'm doing!") - it needs to come naturally and not look like you're making a supreme sacrifice (you're not curing cancer!). But when your child sees this refusal of a drink in a social situation (and let's make it clear, it does not count if you're the designated driver'!) they get the message that you don't always need alcohol to socialize - so simple, yet so powerful!
·       provide food and non-alcoholic beverages if making alcohol available to guests. Always try to associate alcohol with food when you can. Not only does eating slow down absorption of alcohol, helping to prevent poisoning and the like, it also sends the message to young people that drinking should not be an isolated activity
·       organise events with family or friends where alcohol is not available. This is a great one, particularly for parents of younger children, but it needs to be said it can be difficult to do, with many parents telling me that if they say 'no alcohol', people often refuse to attend! Scary but true!
·       never drink and drive 
·       do not portray alcohol as a good way to deal with stress. This can be the most difficult one for many parents to try to do but it is so important. The one thing that almost all parents want is that if their child is going to drink alcohol, that they do it for the 'right' reasons. Drinking to 'cope' or de-stress is not healthy. Flopping down in front of the TV on a Friday night after a big week and saying "I need a glass of wine" is not good modelling. Of course, sometimes it's just going to happen - you're not perfect - but if you can avoid it, that's great. At the same time, try to use healthy ways to cope with stress without alcohol, e.g., exercise, listening to music, or talking things over

Remember, as already said, you are your child's first and most important teacher. They learn from watching you and others around them from a very early age. You're not going to get it right all of the time but doing a couple of simple things can really lay down some great foundations for the future ...


Mahedy, L., Hammerton, G., Teyhan, A., Edwards, A.C., Kendler, K.S., Moore, S.C., Hickman, M., Macleod, J., & Heron, J. (2017). Parental alcohol use and risk of behavioral and emotional problems in offspring. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0178862.
Pedersen, W. & von Soest, T. (2013). Socialization to binge drinking: A population-based, longitudinal study with emphasis on parental influences. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 133, 587-592.
Rossow, R. Keating, P., Lambert, F., & McCambridge, J. (2016). Does parental drinking influence children’s drinking? A systematic review of prospective cohort studies. Addiction 111, 204–217.

About Me

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Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for the past 25 years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) he has been contracted by many organisations to give regular updates on current drug trends. He has also worked with many school communities to ensure that they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. His book 'Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs' was released nationally in February 2009. With a broad knowledge of a range of content areas, Paul regularly appears in the media and is regarded as a key social commentator, with interviews on television programs such as Sunrise, TODAY and The Project.